Unless you happen to be sporting a case window or an overactive fashion sense, aesthetic appeal is probably the least important characteristic for a motherboard. That said, I like the fact that Abit's recent motherboards have all been dressed in the same shade halfway between red and orange. The color is distinctive, like the brilliant shade of Celeste that graces Bianchi's gorgeous bicycles.
Looks aside, there are plenty of other elements to the AV8's layout worth noting. For starters, notice that both of the board's power plugs are located together near the top (right in the picture) edge of the board. Having both connectors tucked away together at the top edge of the board makes routing power cables easier, cutting down on clutter that could otherwise restrict air flow within a case.
Air flow is especially important around the CPU socket. Here, Abit uses AMD's stock Athlon 64 heat sink retention bracket, which clears out plenty of room for standard heat sinks.
Although I haven't encountered an Athlon 64 heat sink large enough to create clearance problems on the AV8, the board's passive north bridge could potentially conflict with mammoth CPU coolers. Not that I'm knocking the passive cooler. I'd far prefer a taller passive north bridge cooler to a low-profile unit equipped with a fan that's probably going to get annoyingly loud over time.
Speaking of clearance, there's just enough space between the AV8's AGP and DIMM slots to swap memory modules without removing the graphics card. That doesn't mean that the region surrounding the AGP slot is barren, though. There's a row of capacitorsincluding a couple of tall onesthat could create clearance problems for extremely long workstation-class graphics cards. Then again, not many workstation-class cards would even fit in the AV8's AGP slot, which doesn't comply with the AGP Pro spec.
Like most Socket 939 boards, the AV8 is equipped with four DIMM slots and supports up to 4GB of DDR400 memory. 939-pin Athlon 64s have a dual-channel memory controller, which requires that DIMMs be added in pairs for optimal performance. Abit color codes the AV8's DIMM slots to identify which DIMM pairs should be added to which slots.
Abit has been mounting IDE ports at 90 degrees from the usual orientation since last year's BH7, and I quite like the change. The angled ports could make for tight fits inside some smaller ATX cases, but I've yet to encounter an ATX case that cramped. Generally, the angled ports tend to simplify cable routing, in my experience.
The AV8's port cluster is loaded with goodies, including five analog audio jacks, digital S/PDIF input and output ports, four USB ports, a Firewire port, and an Ethernet jack. The port cluster's PS/2, serial, and parallel ports are considerably less sexy, but if they weren't there, a vocal minority would inevitably whine about their absence. To complement these ports, Abit ships the AV8 with a PCI back plate header that holds an additional two Firewire and USB ports. The board also has an on-board header for another two USB ports.